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Bullet Time

2nd-chance-movie-review-richard-davis
Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
2nd Chance (2022)

Pacifists and advocates of non-lethal force will feel a headache coming on while watching "2nd Chance," a documentary by Ramin Bahrani telling the rise and fall of the Second Chance company of Michigan and its founder Richard Davis. In the aftermath of a 1970s attempted mugging of Mr. Davis that turned into a back-alley gun battle when he resisted ("I shot two men many times. Unfortunately I was fighting three.") the victim wondered whether a better, lighter bulletproof vest than the flak jackets on the market at the time might be possible. The answer was yes, and a design of woven nylon proved to have real commercial potential. With Second Chance in business as a supplier of vests, Mr. Davis developed a party piece to prove his product's effectiveness, wearing one and then shooting himself in the chest from a range of half an inch.

These tests are captured on film, and so it turns out are a lot of other things. Mr. Davis has a streak of American showbiz in him and created filmed dramatizations of shooting incidents where cops had worn his product. Ostensibly marketing videos, you suspect Mr. Davis might also have hoped Cannon Films would notice these stilted gun battles with non-actors toppling woodenly into cardboard boxes, and embrace a kindred spirit. In the manner of showbiz entrepreneurs everywhere, some other people suffered. A self-organized firework display went lethally wrong; later Mr. Davis attempted to get someone else to take the legal blame for a different and potentially business-damaging accident.

The fall came when vests made from new Zylon fiber turned out to be degrading, but only after post-9/11 events had made Second Chance a cog in the U.S. military machine. The extent to which the company covered up what it knew is paralleled in the documentary by the collapsing relationship between Mr. Davis and Aaron Westrick, a cop whose life was saved by the company's product. Amateur psychologists from all positions on the gun issue will find things to notice in the ties between the two men, and also in Mr. Davis's relationship with his military veteran father. Davis Sr. takes the shooting role in one vest test and, as the film tactfully puts it, could not stop shooting at his son's groin. Later Mr. Davis prepares to shoot his own son for a similar test and has an epiphany with the gun in his hand. The natural reaction from an observer hoping not to be handed a bullet-proof vest very often is that routes to needing fewer of them rather than better ones would be a good idea; but like most good documentaries the real message of "2nd Chance" is that families are very complicated.

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